RICHMOND, Virginia (VN) — Already the owner of a huge classics victory earlier this year in the Tour of Flanders, Alexander Kristoff has his sights set on one-day racing’s most legendary prize this September: a rainbow jersey.
Unlike the Ronde van Vlaanderen — or Milano-Sanremo, which Kristoff won in 2014 — the world championship road race changes its locale and profile with each year. Miss your opportunity in a year when the course fits your skill set, and you might not get another chance for a while.
With that in mind, Kristoff says a worlds victory would top any of the 20 wins he’s racked up in what has already been a very impressive year.
“Worlds are a little bit different every year, so it’s not like you can win every year,” Kristoff said. “To win worlds would maybe top Flanders.”
Kristoff has been building himself into worlds form with a run of strong results since the Tour de France, where he was admittedly not at his best. He won a stage in the Arctic Race of Norway and the one-day GP Ouest-France and nabbed podium results at the Vattenfall Cyclassics and GP Québec. That’s just the kind of buildup he was hoping for.
“Since the Tour, I’ve been where I should be,” he said. “I’ve done my bit until now, now it’s just left to do a good race — and hopefully some other guys aren’t as good.”
Expectations are running high ahead of Sunday’s race. The Richmond course is long, technical, and cobbled in sections, and the forecast calls for rain. That’s about as Kristoff-friendly as a bike race could get. But the 28-year-old Norwegian is not overconfident.
For one, his two biggest career wins so far have involved an element of surprise. He came into his own with a Sanremo win over more heavily favored sprinters and more seasoned classics stars, and he surprised all of Flanders by winning De Ronde out of a two-man escape when most expected him to hold back for a sprint. So he’ll have eyes on him all day long in Richmond.
“Here, everybody expects me to win,” he said. “And I can win. But there’s many guys who can win here. I think my shape is okay, but is it enough? I don’t know.”
Kristoff will be happy to have Edvald Boasson Hagen, a star in his own right, helping him out. Boasson Hagen brings his Tour of Britain-winning form to worlds and is saying all the right things ahead of the race, coming out in full support of Kristoff as team leader. Then again, the team will start with only six total riders, which will probably force them to rely on collaboration from other teams.
Like Kristoff, John Degenkolb (Germany) and Michael Matthews (Australia) will likely be hoping for a sprint finish. That could work out to be both a blessing and a curse, reducing the workload during the race but increasing competition at the line.
“We don’t have a full squad like other teams,” Kristoff said. “I think we’ll need to form a pack to work together or else it will be difficult to control it at the end. But I think other teams are interested in having it controlled for a sprint, because this final suits Matthews and Degenkolb maybe more than me, because it’s an uphill finish. Also [Peter] Sagan. So I think they are interested in keeping it together, because even if I’m there the finish is hard so they can still maybe beat me.”
After seeing the course in person, Kristoff says he’s most worried about those fast-finishing rivals. He acknowledges the potential for an attacker to steal the day but sees a sprint as the most likely outcome.
“The course is hard, but not too hard,” he said. “I think it’s easier than a classic. It’s easier than Flanders, because the climbs are shorter. But it’s a different race, and I was hoping that the finishing climb was a little bit easier. It’s tougher than I was hoping, maybe. The first climb is harder, so it’s not very [likely] to split. To sprint after this climb will be tough, not only for me but for all the sprinters.
“I think a solo win would be difficult, but you never know. If you are strong enough, you can always go solo. But I think there are so many teams, France, Germany, Australia, also us and some other guys, who want this to be a sprint.”
Kristoff has sprint wins over Matthews, Degenkolb, and Sagan. But he’s also lost to each of them. Sunday in Richmond, they could all square off in a high-speed battle for cycling’s coveted rainbow stripes. Fans won’t soon forget Kristoff’s Flanders or Sanremo victories, of course, but if he wins in Richmond, he will earn the right to remind the cycling world of his prowess every time he suits up to race for the next 365 days.